Have you been in a conversation before where the other person talks and talks without giving much thought to you at all? And no matter how disinterested you are, or if perhaps you are preoccupied but still the person continues to talk – this person likely has low emotional intelligence. And while emotional intelligence is important in face-to-face communication, it can be even more important when it comes to remote working.
Distributed working environments cut out a lot of the components of interpersonal communication such as nonverbal communication cues. Or, perhaps it even removes interpersonal communication altogether. By leaving an in-person work environment you are also leaving the social spheres in which you inhabit while your there. Remote working takes away the metaphorical “coffee-pot chat” that gives you a chance to connect to your coworkers at a deeper level.
By lessening or removing these interactions it gives you less space to build trust and therefore you have less chance to form deeper relationships. And unless you work entirely on your own, this can have an adverse impact on your working environment. Fostering emotional intelligence can help one to establish a deeper connection to others despite not communicating in a face-to-face environment. So the importance of emotional intelligence for remote workers can not be overstated.
What Exactly is Emotional Intelligence?
Most of us are familiar with the intelligence quotient or IQ as it’s commonly referred to. But nowadays another metric is becoming even more important, this is the lesser-known EQ or emotional quotient. This is the measure of how emotionally in-tune you are – to both your emotions and those of others. And the importance of this is increasing because in the workplace more weight is being put on being able to manage emotions in positive ways, overcome challenges, defuse conflict, and empathize with others.
While these are some characteristics of emotional intelligence (EI), it’s more thoroughly defined by four attributes: self-management, self-awareness, relationship management, and social awareness.
The ability to control impulsive behaviors and feelings. It’s also the ability to manage your emotions in healthy ways, be a self-starter, do what you said you’d do, and adapt to changing circumstances.
You can identify your own emotions and are able to recognize how they affect your behavior and thoughts. You know your weaknesses, strengths, limitations, and have self-confidence.
You are able to develop and maintain good and healthy relationships. You can clearly communicate as well as inspire and influence others, manage conflict, and work well in teams.
You can empathize with others. Specifically, you can understand the needs, emotions, and concerns of other people. This is through picking up on emotional cues and feeling comfortable socially and recognizing the power dynamics in a group or conversation.
Importance of Emotional Intelligence in The Workplace
Not only can emotional intelligence help to forge deeper relationships with your coworkers or clients, it can also allow for managers to develop into leaders. The difference between someone who merely manages a group of people and one that leads, oftentimes is emotional intelligence. This is because when you are aware and in-tune to not only how others are feeling, but how your actions make them feel, you can be much more inspiring. And it’s suggested that while traditional intelligence is associated with leadership success, it’s not enough. People who are successful at leading also have a high EQ too.
And upon looking at the four defining attributes of emotional intelligence it’s easy to see why. In addition to social awareness, and self-awareness as just mentioned, being able to clearly communicate, influence others, and manage the conflict are all important aspects of a successful leader. And lastly, leading by example through self-management and the ability to control impulsive behaviors and feelings is another way that one can lead rather than manage. In a 2019 survey, it was found that 82% of employees would consider changing jobs to a more empathetic organization. And in another study conducted by Yale of over 14,000 individuals found that supervisors with higher emotional intelligence were linked to more employee creativity and innovation.
But, of course, the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace is not only for those in leadership positions. It’s can play an important role in how employees interact with their colleagues. It is also thought that emotional intelligence plays a role in how well workers manage conflict and stress. And some studies have also linked higher emotional intelligence and higher overall job performance and job satisfaction.
The reasoning for this is suggested that because those that can more clearly express and identify their emotions, can then address them and utilize a sort of emotional-repair ability. This alone can significantly contribute to reduced stress, better performance, and reduced likelihood of burnout. This is significant because a stressful work environment can lead to a plethora of health problems like headaches, stomachaches, and sleep disturbances. And these problems can not only compound poor work performance but also lead to increasingly negative health problems like high blood pressure, anxiety, weakened immune system, and possibly heart disease.
Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Remote Workers and Distributed Teams
The importance of emotional intelligence for remote workers and distributed teams is very similar to the importance in a physical work environment as previously mentioned. However, it’s arguably even more important when you’re working remotely. While some components of EI like interpreting body language are neutralized as communication doesn’t occur face-to-face, other components are drastically more important. Ultimately, EI is “all about empathy, inclusion, and respect” which are traits that are much more important in a remote working environment. This is because since the work environment isn’t a controlled one like a physical office space, the challenges that your coworkers or clients are facing are unknown to you.
And this is not the problem. The problems of workplace culture can still exist in the remote working environment like lack of engagement, lack of belonging, high amounts of stress, and low motivation. In a remote working environment not only can some of these problems worse – motivation for example – but other problems can arise as well. When you work remotely there may be less of a sense of belonging. Also, it’s much easier to feel less connected to your coworkers. These two things in concert can be extra troubling as your mental health may suffer due to a lack of belonging and connectivity to coworkers. Phone calls, emails, slack messages, and Zoom calls can’t make up for in-person communication. And these mediums make it more difficult to recognize when a coworker is in need of assistance or to even just maintain a healthy relationship.
This is where high emotional intelligence is important. If you can’t understand these feelings, you can’t address them – in yourself or in others. Those with higher emotional intelligence can be better suited for a remote working environment in which such “emotional repairing” techniques can be required.
Emotional Intelligence and the Future of Remote Work
As workplaces becoming increasingly decentralized and more remote-work oriented, the need to address the current shortcomings of remote work. This includes both the problems that are unique to remote working and those that are shared with an in-person work environment as well. Two capabilities of a leader that can help to improve the remote working environment are creativity and effective communication. Creativity allows for boldness and flexibility in how things are thought about and problems are addressed. It can also mean changing how employees work, changing the priorities and objectives of the business, or even pivoting in the products or services that you or the business offers. And effective communication means that the communication channels should be open, and everyone should try to communicate clearly, calmly, honestly, and consistently. This is to be as inclusive as possible as well as reducing uncertainty or confusion.
How to Improve Your EQ
Now that you’re aware of the importance of emotional intelligence, you may realize that perhaps you need to improve some (or many) of the elements of emotional intelligence. Here are some ways that you can cultivate and practice various components of emotional intelligence.
List First – And Actively
Listening doesn’t mean just being there while someone else talks to you while you passively listen. This doesn’t do much good for either you or the other person. Active listening means showing attention to the other person. Ask questions and provide feedback. This goes for whoever you are talking to whether it’s a colleague, client, or employee. Active listening can show that you have an interest in what they have to say and can help to create a deeper connection and to also increase their worth knowing that you care.
When you aren’t talking in-person and face-to-face, the words you say and how you say them can carry even more weight than they otherwise would. This is why what you say, and how you say it can be very important. Even in a Zoom meeting, it can sometimes be difficult to come across how you would in real life. So, to avoid inadvertently coming across in a mean or otherwise negative way, think a bit more careful about your tone and word choice. Trying to convey sensitivity, self-control, and a positive mindset are all good characteristics to try to incorporate in your digital communication.
Be Visible (And Approachable)
While this may be more important for those in a leadership role, it can be just as important for colleagues or towards clients that you are visible and approachable. By being difficult to reach and/or not very welcoming in your demeanor, you can make clear communication much more difficult and make it more likely that jobs won’t be done correctly or for another negative externality to occur.
Name Your Emotions
The first step in being able to address the negative feelings and emotions that can arise is being able to name them. So, when certain emotions arise try naming them. Studies have even shown that even just by simply identifying an emotion, you can begin to calm your brain down. This is thought to be due to overcoming the initial fight or flight response that occurs in your brain.
Journal Your Emotions
In addition to naming your emotions, you can pay attention to your emotions and document what happens when certain emotions arise. This can include feelings in your body, how your voice changes, your thoughts, how long it lasts, and what caused it. Similarly, to naming your emotions, understanding how your body reacts is another first step to improve your emotional intelligence.
Develop Strategies to Manage Your Emotions
Try different techniques to help you react more appropriately and positively to tough situations. These can include going for a walk or taking a ‘time-out’, deep breathing, or trying to reframe the situation and take some positive elements from it. There is no single cure-all so try out different techniques and see what works the best. You can do this for some of your most commonly triggered emotions and then create a strategy aimed specifically at each one.
Put Negative Events into Perspective
Most of the time the problems and challenges that we face are really not that huge. While it may seem at the time it’s a figurative life or death situation, it’s often not. By examining the situation from multiple perspectives and trying to find some positive takeaways you can help move past such situations.
Identify the Emotions of Others
This is a key element when it comes to addressing the problems that others may be facing. And it can also be a good way to build your ability to be more socially aware. You can practice your emotional intelligence by identifying other people’s emotions here.
Learn to See Conflict as An Opportunity, Not A Hurdle
Ultimately, we will have many conflicts in our work experience. And while they often bring up negative feelings and emotions, and can seem difficult to get past, you can build on each one. This can help to improve your overall emotional intelligence.